If You Can't Get Them to Stop Using Drugs, at Least You Can Get Them to Make Fun of You


A Government Accountability Office report on research tracking the impact of the federal government's $1.2 billion anti-drug ad campaign concludes that "the evaluation provides credible evidence that the campaign was not effective in reducing youth drug use, either during the entire period of the campaign [1998 to 2004] or during the period from 2002 to 2004 when the campaign was redirected and focused on marijuana use." The GAO adds that "exposure to the advertisements generally did not lead youth to disapprove of using drugs and may have promoted perceptions among exposed youth that others' drug use was normal….Westat's evaluation indicates that exposure to the campaign did not prevent initiation of marijuana use and had no effect on curtailing current users' marijuana use, despite youth recall of and favorable assessments of advertisements." In fact, during some periods and for some subgroups, exposure to the ads was significantly associated with an increased tendency to smoke pot.

Meanwhile, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, which initially produced ads for the campaign but parted ways with the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the later years, insists that "Anti-Drug Advertising Works," citing "a growing body of evidence." Upon closer examination, however, this evidence consists almost entirely of post hoc, ergo propter hoc assertions.

But what do you expect from an organization that recently bragged about its iconic and unintentionally comic "This Is Your Brain on Drugs" spot? A PDFA press release says "the 'Fried Egg' TV message was so popular that it was satirized and spoofed on T-shirts, records labels, posters, and even on Saturday Night Live." If they're mocking us, we must be getting through to them!